Artur Akmaev Interview – Unique Handmade Engraved Watches

Artur Akmaev

It’s a year today since WRUK launched, and we wanted to put out something special to mark the occasion. If you have not yet heard of Artur Akmaev, then you are in for a treat. Artur, originally from Russia, now lives in the USA where he produces a very small number of stunning one-off hand-made watches with beautiful engraving and enamelling. The moment we saw one of his designs for the first time we knew we had to find out more, and we are honoured that he agreed to answer our questions. First: here are some photos of his work to whet your appetite:

Now, without further ado, here is our latest WRUK interview – with Artur Akmaev.

Wristwatch Review UK: What first got you into creating watches?

Artur Akmaev Dagger
Engraved dagger by Artur Akmaev

Artur Akmaev: Before my adventure in watches began, I first started studying the art of jewellery. I went to the Carl Faberge College of Arts and Crafts in Moscow. That’s where I got my first degree as a professional jeweller. In my last year there I took some engraving classes. For my final project after that class, I made a dagger, engraved and made all by hand.

After college, I went to University of Applied Arts in Moscow, and I also got a job in a watch company, where at first I was doing some external repairs and training to engrave watch dials. First, they were very simple, mostly classic and modern patterns. A few years later, when my skills in engraving grew a little – along with my interest in watches – I started to become curious about watch brands who make something similar, but much better and more interesting. I thought “why I can’t do that too,” and I started training to engrave in different styles and patterns, more 3D style sculptures. That was a really exciting time.

I love to see it when watch parts I engraved, are assembled, and show the story I designed. To see a watch I made is like seeing a small little painting on canvas displaying a story and that makes me happy.


WRUK: Did you also train as a watchmaker?
AA: I used to work only on the engraving part, also designing and enamelling, but never watchmaking. That was so I could focus on my part, and leave assembling watches for the professionals. But, about year ago, I moved to the USA, and I started my business from scratch, with no tools or supplies.

For the first couple of months I was working on my new designs, making sketches and drawings, but when I had some time I finally started focussing on assembling movements, oiling, regulating and testing. Books, articles on the internet and YouTube videos really helped. Today, all my watches are entirely hand-made by me.
 
WRUK: What kind of tool/machinery setup do you have?
AA: Since my watches are mostly focused on engraving, I have a lot of engravers: different shapes; different metals; and different sharpening. I have about fifteen engravers, but mostly I use about five. The rest are almost the same as those five, just with different sharpened tips, which makes them usable for special occasion engraving only.

Also, I have a lot of tools for finishing and polishing. Again, since I moved to the USA, I have learned some different techniques of finishing, which helps me to provide a better product. I have a kinda big set of tools and a different grid of diamond pastes only for polishing screws and hands. I also use a lot of different diamond sheets for polishing watch parts. Also a big variety of burs and drills, different shapes and sizes, all within 0.35 – 2mm. I have a soldering set with a torch only for making pins (feet) on my dials, so I eventually can install my dials with movements and centred without any glue or anything like that.

And of course, I have many watch tools. Screwdrivers, hand removers and setting tools, demagnetizer, mainspring winders, oils, oilers and oil cups, and luminous paste with different color powders (that’s what I learned how to do recently too). All my tools are Swiss made, I don’t have a lot yet, but I prefer to get the best quality tools first. I am happy to have a stacking set, it is kinda vintage but still usable and very helpful sometimes. And, of course, I have a timegrapher and ultrasonic for cleaning details and parts. That’s mostly it. I have many other small tools, and some spare watch details.

WRUK: Tell us about the very first watch you built
AA: I have made a few watches for myself, but I would call my first watch the Batman watch. I approached to the process of making it very serious and wise, if I may say so. First, of course, I wanted to make a watch for myself, what I would want to have on my wrist, that wouldn’t bore me. I also wanted to make a watch that I could show and use to advertise. So, showing that watch I can tell what I can do, what are my capabilities, what kind of technical and designing abilities I can provide. I made it more than three years ago, and I keep upgrading it occasionally.

First, I put the quote “I’m Batman,”  like in the comic books. It was very challenging for me to make it so small and also enamel it. Then, I blued the screws. And the last upgrade I did was putting luminous paste in Batman symbol, which was used to be just enamelled. Now it is white colored being visible at night – so cool!

I am not a superhero fan. But I do appreciate Batman’s story because he can be real, and especially after Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of the Dark Knight, that’s what exactly I believe in and how I can imagine Batman. And those movies are masterpieces: as a detective story; as drama and humanity; and a real hero; and the music… I have watched those movies over and over. That was my inspiration for the watch.

You may notice the front side is dark, as in the Dark Knight, but the back is a bit different. I decided to make there a Batman story like I knew in my childhood, and I placed creatures and enemies that I liked on it. So the back side brings me to my childhood, when I watched cartoons before school, and I had to wake up quite earlier because of that.

WRUK: Your enamelling work is astonishing, can you talk us through the process of creating an enamelled dial?
AA: The enamelling part of my work is quite important as well. I have two types: one of them is called “cold jewellery enamel” and the other is “fire enamel”, made in a kiln.

The cold enamel includes two parts that you mix, one is a color and another is catalyst. Looks easy, you have colors, mix it and let it dry. But complications come with shades, color proportions and catalyst proportions, drying timing, deepness, make sure all surfaces are clean, brushes as well. Considering that most of the enamelling areas are small, using very small brushes, it has to be very delicate and neat.

As for fire enamel, I don’t use it very often. It is a very complicated type, and it requires more attention, a lot of experiments and tests, and a lot of patience! It only works on flat dials. But I can do that too if I need to.

WRUK: How long do your watches take to build?
AA: From making a sketch to putting a watch in a box usually takes about six weeks. That is about a week, sometimes more or less, of working on a design and making the final sketch. Then I transfer the design onto watch parts and do further engraving and finishing, which takes about three-four weeks. After that is the plating of the parts, which takes couple of days. I don’t do that, I bring the parts to special service. And then the most delicate part: assembling, which takes a day. Finally, it is tested for a few more days.

WRUK: How many watches have you made?
AA: I made a lot of watches for the company where I worked back in Russia. But since I started to work on my own, in December 2013, I have made about 40 watches – about one watch a month. Lately, I have been trying to work harder, considering I am living in the USA and having a family. I do not focusing on the amount of watches but also on their complexity.

WRUK: Do you always work to order, or do you also create your own designs and sell them on?
Yes, I do mostly work to order. I have some repeat clients, and I made some watches for a few companies. But of course, as an artist, I have some of my own designs, and sketches. Sometimes, I receive orders with requests for designs that I already have made, so it helps to have some ideas prepared. But, I plan to make some of my designs and see if people like them, so I can have them as a special edition line in future.

WRUK: Which is your favourite watch from all of those you have created?
AA: I’ve made a lot of watches within last three years, and since most of them are made to order they all have something special, and sometimes very personal, for clients. That makes me feel like I am working on something important and also working on something that can stay in a family for a time, maybe be as an heirloom to be handed down. I know, some of the watches are made for fathers as gifts for their kids.

The watch with a Lion on the front, a father ordered it for his son. He is originally from Canada but we met in Russia. His first son had just been born, and he wanted a watch with the Lion, since they gave their son the name Lev (his wife is Russian, and Lev means Lion in Russian). On the back, there is a symbol of his motherland: a Nova Scotia lighthouse and Canadian enamelled leaves, the Lion logo of a school he graduated. And also there are some classic Russian patterns, representing his Russian wife. He is keeping the watch as a gift for his son when he is 18. Can’t wait!

Artur Akmaev Lion watch
Artur Akmaev Lion watch

Another very interesting watch I made was for a young father from Hong Kong for his first child – a daughter. He is very interested in European history in the middle ages, and he is especially passionate about the history of Joan of Arc. So, we designed the front and back together through many emails. Every detail engraved on that watch has something special and meaningful. The main detail is Joan of Arc as a reflection of his daughter. The front side is Joan praying at the Siege of Orlean. The back is about Joan of Arc being burned with two angels around her.

Artur Akmaev Joan of Arc watch
Artur Akmaev Joan of Arc watch

And one more Family watch, also for a dad who has three kids. We designed a watch together, that represents his family members as Chinese Zodiac animals. The father is a mouse, his wife is a pig, and his first two kids are a dragon and horse. His youngest kid, because he was a baby at that time, we decided to imagine him as a sun.

Also, I like the hour marks. I made them as stars, and 12, 3, 6 and nine are bigger, and I think they look all together as a constellation. The back side of the watch is about their honeymoon: the places they have visited. London, Venice and the Alps.

Most of my watches have a story behind them, and also there are stories of my work of processes from sketch making to delivering watches to their new owners. I put a lot of my attention, my devotion and a little touch of my soul in every watch. In every watch I leave secret marks, and they are usually hidden.

WRUK: What are your plans for the future?
AA: In the future I want to have my own designed line of watches, with more complicated movements and a different varieties of materials for watch cases. I also want to keep on improving my skills in engraving. I discover something new all the time in every watch I make, and I want to carry on. And another thing I keep in mind is to open a school one day, for engraving and watchmaking classes. That’s just a thought, but I am seriously considering it.

WRUK: How does someone order a watch from you?
AA: I am usually online on my email, as well on WhatsApp. I try to reply as soon as I can. Every email I mark in special sections, so they are never lost or forgotten. I have a calendar, and I try to keep at least three projects ahead.

Regarding how the process gets started, first I like to hear ideas or any thoughts from clients, so I can understand and imagine what they want. Then after a couple of simple sketches, we move along to more detailed designs. After it’s finished I ask for half of the price as a deposit, so I can get prepared, get any parts I need, start producing new parts for dials, hands etc.

I have a few options for movements: two mechanical and a few automatic movements – all Swiss made. I have five watch cases: 42, 44, 45 mm diameter for mechanical movements, all different shapes and colors, made of steel, with sapphire glasses. I also have four cases for automatic movements: 36, 39, 41 and 44 mm in diameter.

All my watches come in a hand-made wooden watch box with a leather watch strap. I can do different platings for the movements: rhodium, silver or gold. The price for my watches starts from USD $3,750. But it all depends on the complexity of the design and technical difficulties, such as unique and special designed watch hands, blued screws or enamelling.


All that remains is for us to thank Artur for his time in answering our questions and providing such stunning photos and videos of his work. You can reach Artur Akmaev at: artur.movement88@gmail.com

Author: Mike Richmond

Usually found skulking around eBay or the International Watch League forum, Mike writes for a living and spends what little money he makes building up his collection of timepieces.

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